03:52 GMT +323 October 2019
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    What Really Happened at the Munich Security Conference

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    The Munich Security Conference was quite an event this year. What with Donald Trump’s election and Brexit, the usual security narratives are under threat. Our two guests: Mary Dejevsky, a prominent writer and journalist based in London, and Professor Vladimir Golstein, Professor of Slavic Studies at Brown University share their expert analysis.

    The first topic of conversation concerned the all-important relationship between the US and NATO. Mary Dejevsky says that delegates travelled to Munich with a sense of gloom, having heard that the US regarded the EU and NATO with some scepticism. At the conference, however, they heard vice President Michael Pence and Defence Secretary James Mattis, say that the US was just as committed to NATO as the previous administration, as long as EU nations stumped up some more money. However, as Mary explained, “at the back of everybody’s minds, especially in the minds of people from Central and Eastern Europe, was the idea that this might not be all that the new administration might be about… They were hearing one thing but their sense of trepidation persisted afterwards.” Professor Golstein says on this subject that: “Europeans are definitely at a loss, because NATO was an organization that came into being a long time ago, under the leadership and guidance of the United States, and they used to call all the shots. They introduced the so called ‘Pax Americana’ and it went on. So now, Europeans are more like children left at home when their parents left and they don’t really know what to do. …They are not ready to think on their own, because the US has trained them in a particular way, provided for military bases all over Europe.” Professor Golstein went on to say that Europeans are trying to hold to the idea of the evil bad Soviet Union but there is a new reality that they are having difficulty coming to terms with.

    There is another complication, Mary Dejevsky says. “Suddenly you have the problem of Brexit and Britain leaving the European Union, and a lot of splits within the European Union about its defence…. Getting together a new [European] defence policy is not going to be easy.” Mary then put the conference in perspective. “This particularly Conference has a history and a tradition of being quite Cold-War-like in its atmosphere and its priorities. And what I found surprising this year, that is despite Ukraine, relations with Russia, and the perceived threat from Russia, which were all there in the mix; these topics were not right up there as the absolute top concerns. …There wasn’t the really cold anti-Russian sort of tone that Munich has so often been associated with.”

    Host John Harrison admits that he is naughty sometimes and reads alternative news sites, full of controversy theories, and one of the biggest theories recently has been called ‘Post-Western Age.’  “I dismissed that as being just another irrelevant invention produced by these kids, you know one man and a dog running a news site somewhere, and I then went onto the Munich Security Conference site and I find former diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger who was chairman of the Conference saying that the world is on the brink of a ‘Post Western Age!’”

    In this context, Professor Golstein says that the ‘Washington Consensus’ is very influential in the United States. This Consensus, which is supported by traditional Eastern Europe allies from Ukraine to Poland and the Baltics, has worked very well for certain kinds of developments, but “Europeans including Ischinger realise that this narrative is not that strong. There are different players on the block from China to Iran, to more assertive Russia, which now wants to be taken seriously, as it should do, as the largest country in the world, …there is a new narrative knocking at the door and people are now paying attention to this.” Be that as it may, as Professor Golstein points out, there is a real split between the view upheld by the Washington Post and the New York Tines, which support the Washington Consensus, and who are supported by the Atlantic Council [think tank], which was very strongly represented in Munich, “but there is a new group of people, who are not necessarily supportive of Trump but who are saying that there is a new assertive China for example.”  Mary Dejevsky interestingly points out that there is a shifting away from the Washington Consensus in Europe, but “one place you possibly don’t see it is in Britain, where the Washington Consensus, I would say, is alive and very, very well, especially in the corridors of power.” This is despite ambiguity from the US, Mary points out, which could leave Britain very isolated.

    On the subject of China, the ‘Pivot to Asia’ is discussed. This subject was not a major theme of the conference and that is perhaps understandable, because, as Mary Dejevsky points out, the Munich Conference traditionally focuses on European security. “What is interesting is that there is more continuity [in respect to China] between the Obama and the Trump administrations as regards the Pivot to Asia and the potential threat from China…” Mary, however, who has recently returned from Japan says that in Asia, “in exactly the same way, uncertainty exists among the Pacific Allies as among the Atlantic Allies.”

    Other issues are discussed in the programmes such as Bill Gates’s warning about bio-terrorism. The resolution of this problem, as with others such as Climate Change requires the cooperation of many states together, however as host John Harrison points out, the world seems to be hurtling very fast towards the break-up of alliances. Brexit, paradoxically, Mary Dejevsky says, may actually serve to help the remaining EU countries stay together. 

    “A combination of opinion polls across the European Union and the sort of statements you see coming out from leaders, it looks almost as though the British leaving has to an extent solidified the European Union, and has discouraged people, at least immediately, from following Britain out.”

    To sum up the program, Professor Golstein says that “things are being shaken about but the truth will come out.” Mary Dejevsky says “in a couple of years’ time, this Munich Security Conference may be seen as the first post-Cold-War Munich Security Conference.”

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    European security, 2017 Munich Security Conference, NATO, Donald Trump, EU, United States
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